Hundreds of Ecuadorian and Venezuelan asylum seekers arrived in Chicago in June and October 2022. Currently, they are housed in 10 hotels across the City and suburbs. With the trauma and violence they experienced on their journey and relational violence some families are experiencing connected to their enduringly uncertain status, the Leadership Team at the Refugee Resettlement Project at Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) requested that we train hotel staff and contractors on how to recognize gender-based violence and how to respond. We readily agreed and expanded the training to include conversations with the refugees as well, so they could access resources more directly.
The timeline was rapid. Emagin Tanaschuk, our Training Coordinator, and Sabrina Hampton, our Capacity Building Manager, deftly stepped in to adapt our training and conversational resources to the refugee’s context.
Capacity Building Manager Sabrina Hampton has led two trainings with hotel workers and contractors thus far. These participatory sessions focus on signs to look out for that someone could be experiencing violence, the forms violence takes, ways of reaching out to people to build rapport, and community-based resources that specialize in working with Latin American refugee populations, such as Centro Romero, La Casa Central, and Mujeres Latinas en Acción.
Emagin Tanaschuk, who is both the Training Coordinator and answers calls at the Hotline, is fluent in Spanish. She is leading the bulk of this project, going out to visit the refugees at their hotels and chat with them over cocoa.
From her first trip to meet with refugees in Skokie, Emagin was struck by the compounded traumas they had experienced. Needing to flee their home countries; their journey to the United States. And now, being isolated in an unfamiliar setting with a language they do not recognize.
Emagin met with 20 refugees, while their kids played with an IDHS staffers in the same room. Though chaotic, this was vital for comfort. “So many of [the refugees’] stories revolved around them not feeling like good enough parents because they couldn’t feed” their kids at times on the journey or couldn’t alleviate their suffering. Having their kids in the same room meant they could relax and engage more.
At the same time, a complicating factor was that all refugees were there with their partners, so it was not a setting that would be comfortable for disclosing intimate partner violence.
Emagin navigated this deftly, normalizing survivorship and seeking resources, talking with the refugees about signs that someone might be experiencing violence, and ways to reach out for support while still understanding and maintaining your own boundaries. She encouraged neighbors to reach out and build rapport with one another. And if violence is very clearly occurring, she offered some supportive language a neighbor could say to a survivor:
“I overheard a conflict the other night, I’m a little bit concerned, but I also know that you’re the expert of your own situation—if you decide that you need help getting resources, I’m really happy to help you with that, but I want to make sure I’m going at your pace.”
She suggested boundaries that might be helpful when offering support, like mentioning particular hours where you are available or sending texts rather than calling. As we support survivors, thinking about our own boundaries is vital. We never want to promise more than we can provide.
Excitingly, Emagin will be moving on to be the Manager of the Survivor Fund starting in April. We are excited to see her take this on and her bilingualism will be an incredible asset in this role as well. Stay tuned for more information and stories from the Survivor Fund—we opened it up to 1,000 new applicants on March 9!
CTI’s signature event is our annual virtual Reclaiming Our Love: Social Justice and Domestic Violence Conference. This year, we have an incredible line-up of speakers focused on accessibility, liberatory practices, and decarceration.